A Note from Mark A. DiGiacomo:
Every September, I begin my classes with George Santayana’s famous maxim, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And unfortunately, it rings true today as much as it did over 100 years ago when Santayana first wrote it.
With the recent violence in Beirut, Egypt, and Paris, parents struggle with how to address these horrific events with adolescents: “How do I explain this to my son or daughter?” But as parents, we cannot shy away from the realities in which our teenaged children live today. When I was young, my parents could easily hide the newspaper and turn off the TV. But we do not have that privilege anymore. Through the Internet, we are inundated with images and stories that contain both truths and falsehoods, and often at the same time.
Teaching the cycles of history is not easy, especially when it involves war. It involves a great deal of nuance and at times, the willingness to admit to repeated mistakes, social injustice, and national apathy.
I believe that the conversation needs to start from a place of hope. Yes, the cycle of violence continues, but so does the cycle of hope.
Speaking with our children about how the world community has accomplished so much in terms of advancing civilized society in the face of violence, and will continue to do so.
Speaking with our children about how today’s decisions may have positive or negative consequences so they should choose well.
Speaking with them about the balance between trust and caution, so they learn to make well-reasoned and fact-based conclusions.
These are important because it will help our children develop the critical thinking skills they will need as our future leaders. And that future is our hope. It is important to learn from our past, for it is who we are, whether neat or messy. It is important to learn from our past because a rush to judgment can have a significant impact on not just us, but on our community. It is important to learn from our past because that’s all that we have on which to base our decisions, ideas, and progress.
By studying our past, we learn the discipline of empathy and understanding. We must teach our children to understand that today’s events are tomorrow’s past. If they don’t learn from what they see now, they will only end up seeing it again tomorrow.
Mark A. DiGiacomo has been teaching at The Pennington School in Pennington, New Jersey for twelve years. He is the 2011 recipient of the Henry and Selma Otte Distinguished Teacher Award. As a Consultant for the College Board, Mark leads one-day and weeklong trainings for fellow AP teachers. He also serves as an AP Reader, scoring essays for the national exam. When not reading countless essays, he enjoys performing with The Faculty Band, mountain biking, and swimming.